Amanita muscaria – just for the hell of it

nibble

This mushroom needs no introduction, although most people in Western Australia will not have encountered it in the wild.   In fact, the first confirmed occurrence of this mushroom in WA was only comparatively recently in 2009.  See First record of Amanita muscaria in Western Australia.

That paper expresses some concern about this spreading to pine plantations in WA, where I in fact first encountered it.  Unlike the situation in other states, this fungus was not purposely introduced into pine plantations.   It has been demonstrated to be capable of transferring to many of our native trees in SW WA under laboratory conditions, which is of some concern to mycologists it seems. Since the initial sighting, it has been recorded in many places from Perth to Augusta.


Note: May 2016

I am watching this spread through the pine forest where I first encountered it and I have found it invading one section of the pines in the local arboretum.  It is apparently common around Margaret River

—————————————————————-

I have known for some time that this mushroom was edible if treated appropriately, so with some specimens in my hand, I decided to research the topic.   My research yielded a paper by Rubel and Arora.

They point out the wide cultural bias against eating this mushroom and point out that the toxic components are water soluble.  They suggest a technique of boiling the thinly sliced mushroom in a saline solution for 15 minutes.

In contrast to that paper, Debbie Viess has published several papers that vehemently oppose the concept of eating this mushroom, though by her own admission, she has tried it.

After reading what was available, it seemed to me that the Viess papers really served to reinforce the cultural bias suggested by Rubel and Arora.  The suggested boiling regime did not seem overly complex as suggested by Viess, and discarding the water didn’t seem like too much of a burden.  So I decided to conduct my own investigation.

Erring on the side of caution, I cut up a single cap into slices of 3 to 4 mm thickness and boiled them for 15 minutes in salted water.  I then drained them and repeated the procedure, finally rinsing the slices in cold water.   After this treatment, there was no red colour remaining, and the slices were of limp, unappealing appearance.  However, I fried them up in a little butter/oil mix until they were slightly brown and found them to be quite tasty.

What troubled me was the lack of actual data regarding the rate of removal of the toxins, so I decided to do my own investigation.   It seemed to me that if the toxins are readily water soluble, then one might expect to see some change in the conductivity of the extraction solution.   So I sliced up a single cap, weighing 45g and placed it in 1 litre of water.   The conductivity immediately rose from 31 microSiemens to 60 microSiemens. I then began to heat the combination until it boiled and maintained it at a steady boil for 3o minutes, allowing it to rest for a further 30 minutes.   During this procedure, I took 10 ml samples with a plastic syringe and added them to 100ml of cold water, measuring the conductivity of the resultant solution.  From this  I could calculate the conductivity of the hot water solution.  I repeated this exercise with another cap of 40g weight which I pulverised with a blender for 2 minutes.  My results are shown below.

graph

The blue line shows the conductivity of the solution for the case of sliced caps and the red line shows the result for the pulverised caps.  The higher starting point for the pulverised caps shows that the finer particle size provided more rapid leaching.  This indicates that diffusion of the soluble components from the mushroom mass is rate controlling.  Hence the need for thin slicing and boiling.

I had no means of determining the actual amount of soluble toxin in the solution, but since these toxins are highly soluble, I expect that they would follow the trend with the total soluble components.  It would seem that a photometric measurement in the deep ultraviolet region at 254nm would be needed to follow the amount of ibotenic acid and muscimol in the solution.

I should note that I have not taken into account the lowering of the volume of the boiling water during the extraction process.   Because of this, my readings are higher than they should be.  Despite this, they do show that there is a fairly rapid increase in extraction in the first 15 minutes followed by a reduction in the extraction rate.

From my point of view it would be preferable for someone better equipped than myself to conduct experiments along these lines and to publish the results than to go to the extraordinary lengths that Ms. Viess has gone to in the way propagating fear of the unknown. In any case, I can report that I have consumed about 10 grams of the boiled slices without any ill effect whatever.

I wonder how the kangaroo that took the nibble out the specimen pictured above is feeling?

——————-==========================================

PS  There is a description of what happened to some people who only boiled the mushrooms for 3 minutes at this link.

Prue in Tasmania reports pickling these. She has given a link below.

Debbie Viess has taken the time to add a comment below as well.

15 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Glenda said,

    To be honest Morrie, it does all seem a bit of effort.

    • 2

      morrie2 said,

      Hi Glenda,
      Yes, it is more the challenge of it than anything else. I don’t imagine that these are ever going to be a regular part of anyone’s diet.

  2. 3

    It’s interesting that A. muscaria is a new arrival. In the South Island of New Zealand it was unknown in the early 1940s but by the mid 60s was probably the most common mushroom in both islands of New Zealand. It now appears to be moving from its association with introduced tree species and moving into the native Nothofagus forests. It has also been recorded in mycorrhizal association with eucalypts. It will be interesting see what happens in WA.
    Cheers
    Geoff

    • 4

      morrie2 said,

      Hi Geoff
      Thanks for your interest. It does seem like this mushroom is spreading quite rapidly and it will be interesting to see what happens.
      I had a look at your blog and it looks like it is packed with useful information.
      Cheers,
      Morrie

  3. 5

    Andy said,

    Hey mate, Love your work.

    I have been using this Mushroom as an antimicrobial for about a year and I havefound it to close to miraculous.
    I also pulverise mine and filter it for use in a topical spray… go find some mrsa samples and try it on that…… it will work in vitro and in vivo
    Its also a pain killer, thats what got me started on this little guy.

    when you pick it there is a gel that exeudes from the cap… that gel is amazing.

    I currently have MRSA and the only antimicrobial I am taking is this as atonic abut 50ml .. 4 or five times a day. works like clockwork in both controlling outbreaks and killing them. I only started to take it internally a week and a half ago for this purpose, and that was because the antibiotics weren`t doing their job.

    So as with most mushrooms, they have apurpose to be discovered but most people are just to scared.

    I love your blog it really helps to have a local eg an aussie with aussie mushy`s

    • 6

      morrie2 said,

      Hi Andy,

      I am sorry to hear of your afflictions.

      My interest is purely in the edibility of the mushroom, when appropriately treated. You appear to be heading into fairly unchartered waters.

      You comments did lead me to look a little more into the literature and though I am not a pharmacologist, I did find mention of muscimol as an analgesic. That was something I was not aware of.

      I also found mention of the extraction of other therapeutic compounds from the mushroom together with a protocol that began with a cold water extraction which appears to be designed to get rid of things like muscimol. There was no detail about the basis of the extraction protocol though, unfortunately.

      I don’t think I would want to go down the track you are treading, but best of luck with it.

      Cheers,

      Morrie

  4. 7

    pruefreefood said,

    When I as living where these wonders grew I was eating them on tha regular for tha few years I was living in trouwunna (Tasmania) processed, canned n pickled, a great free organic food source.

    I also looked at using them medicinally by fermenting them, I seen it documented on a show about an indigenous women using them for arthritis pain I think it was tha Ukraine? but I wasn’t around them long enough to really experiment with them I used it a few times n man it stunk a, but I am very interested in what Andy is saying, do you have a blog about it in any detail Andy? https://pruefreefood.wordpress.com/2012/04/05/1306/

    • 8

      morrie2 said,

      Interesting to read about both the slippery jacks and the Amanita muscaria, Prue. I had some dried slippery jacks around here at one stage, but a backpacker threw them out along with some other treasures like the pickled slippery jacks that a friend made.

      I have not heard of using the fly agarics for topical pain treatment, but who knows?

  5. 9

    jsunlau said,

    Having also read quite a bit about this mushroom I was surprised to find your post on it, such a cultural taboo! I have not been able to go there yet though I have eaten cane toads and documented how to prepare. But why not, this kind of information could save your life in a food shortage crisis situation. Which is how many edible and poisonous mushrooms have been discovered referring to World war I & ll when people survived on mushrooms and nettle. This is when mushroom control inspectors appeared checking what was passing through markets. My friend in Zurich informs me of a Piltze Control Centre that operates during the mushrooms season. You hand over your basket they take a look, remove any poisonous or suspect mushrooms and then give you a print out of your collected species names, takes about half an hour. An amazing service. In Australia we have one place I know of Identifying 2 mushrooms for the bus loads of Tourists, destination- Oberon, a small country town NSW, surrounded by some of the finest mushroom picking country. Tourist magazines are decorated with saffron milk caps and slippery jacks along with the up and coming Truffle industry. Forestry printouts include Tricholoma terreum.

    • 10

      morrie2 said,

      I try to keep an open mind. Personally, I think that slippery jacks are a complete waste of time and require considerable effort to prepare and render non-toxic. Despite the potential for people to poison themselves, if A. muscaria could be reliably prepared then in my experience they taste better than slippery jacks. People from other countries may not realise the paucity of officially sanctioned edible wild mushrooms in Australia (2 or 3 only). Even Armillaria luteobubalina which I have been eating for 20 years is listed as ‘highly toxic’ by Fungimap.

  6. 11

    Debbie Viess said,

    Hi Morrie,
    I commend you for reading both perspectives on edible muscaria prior to trying your muscaria experiment. However, my paper was not so much to instill fear but rather reasonable caution.

    Contrary to the downplaying of its seriousness as a poison by Rubel, muscaria causes many serious poisonings, requiring hospitalization, on a regular basis, and has never been a broadly accepted edible species anywhere in the world, including Japan.

    It would appear that Mr. Rubel didn’t bother to read the entire thesis on muscaria use in Japan, or he would have come to the same conclusions: it is a small and dying tradition in one small town in the only land-locked Japanese Prefecture of Nagano. Their preparation to make the amanitas completely non-toxic is indeed quite elaborate, and can take months. They are then only eaten in small amounts for special occasions. Even the locals refer to it as similar to fugu … a potentially deadly food that can be made edible through elaborate preps.

    Poor preparation of muscaria as an edible usually results in nausea, vomiting or deep sleep. Quite a few folks have gotten that recipe wrong, and suffered the consequences. The more careful you are, the better the outcome. You are highly unlikely to die from improperly prepared muscaria for the table, but you may well end up regretting your meal.

    There have been several recent North American deaths recorded after ingestion of muscaria as a drug, by those who might have thought it harmless, and several recent deaths in Tanzania, where it was introduced in pine plantations. It does not naturally grow in the southern hemisphere.

    Many amanitas are excellent edibles, and contain no poisons at all. I recommend learning about them, and avoiding the toxic ones altogether.

    But as thinking adults, we can pick our poisons, and certainly do.

    The “cultural bias” claimed by Rubel is merely a case of good common sense, around the world. No culture, anywhere, or at any time in history, used muscaria as a widely accepted edible species.

    To read my rebuttal to the Rubel /Arora piece, go here:

    http://www.mushroomthejournal.com/bestof/muscaria_revisited.pdf

    Sincerely,

    Debbie Viess
    Bay Area Mycological Society
    http://www.bayareamushrooms.org

    • 12

      morrie2 said,

      Thanks for your comments Debbie.

      Our situation in Australia is a little different from that in Europe and North America in that the edibility of most of our native species is unknown. I am not aware of any edible Amanitas here and if there are any, I imagine that they would have to be introduced species. I would not dream of eating any Amanita that I found growing in the wild here, apart from the experiment with the muscaria which are so distinctive. We have had quite a few cases of people of Asian extraction dying from deathcaps here, mistaking them for Volvariella.

      If you are aware of any edible Amanitas in Australia however, I would be interested to know about it.

      Cheers,

      Morrie

      • 13

        Debbie Viess said,

        Hi Morrie,
        I just returned from five weeks of discovery along the eastern coast of your marvelous OZ, and all that I can say is: Wow!

        As a naturalist as well as a mycologist, I was amazed and thrilled at the spectrum of new and unusual and often quite beautiful life-forms! I was not tempted by the culinary aspects of cane toads, though (cane toads? really?). It was quite tragic to hear that they have been responsible for the demise of your large and quite impressive monitor lizards, in areas where the sugar cane has been farmed.

        But back to our friend muscaria and the amanitas of OZ.

        I did indeed stumble across several amanita species, despite the drought that you are suffering under (the same is true for us here in CA). We are all Brothers and Sisters in climate change arms.

        As to edible species of amanita: in fact, we are only just starting to learn about our NA edible amanita species, so no reason that you all can’t be doing the same in OZ! America is only now slowly turning away from its humble fungiphobic beginnings, and the vast majority of folks here eat no wild mushrooms, let alone amanitas! As it turns out, for those who are highly skilled in their mushroom IDs (and this is a learned skill that anyone can gain), there are two safe groups of amanitas which do not contain toxins, anywhere in the world: the various Caesar’s mushrooms and the Grisettes. Both of these groups are readily recognized if you put in the time to learn how to do so. Unlike in section Amanita (muscaria, pantherina and others), which contain dangerous toxins that are only removed through special preparation, and in the Validae (blushers and their relatives), which also contain toxins that become denatured through cooking or by stomach heat and acidity, both the caesars and the grisettes are wholly non-toxic. All that remains is to decide if you actually enjoy their flavor/texture! They won’t poison you regardless of prep, but they might be bland or unpalatable. You won’t know until you try!

        Turns out you have quite a few amanitas in both groups. Dr. Rod Tulloss, our world expert on amanita, has compiled a list of the amanitas of OZ and NZ, by section. You can search through both Caesarea and Vaginatae (grisettes) for yourself, here:

        http://www.eticomm.net/%7Eret/amanita/key.dir/austr_nz.pdf

        But of course, be very very sure of your ID before you put anything amanita in your mouth. I found at least two toxic amanita species in my travels: one Destroying Angel in the Kempsey area (a native deadly amanita), and another couple of Lepidellas (primitive white fluffy veiled amanitas), some of which have dangerous, kidney damaging toxins. No phalloides out and about this time, but folks at the Melbourne Royal Botanical Garden couldn’t wait to tell me all about their collections. Apparently the gardeners in these public gardens are on phalloides search and destroy missions on a regular basis. Only those fruit bodies though; can’t get the organism that lives on the roots underground.

        At any rate, insofar as eating muscaria as an edible species: just because you can do something doesn’t always mean that it is a good idea. The problem is the way that the mushroom was portrayed by Rubel and Arora in their paper: as a basically harmless species with a broad worldwide edibility acceptance, expect in fungi phobic cultures, aka “cultural bias.” But in fact, even the fungiphilic cultures of the world eschew and fear and advise against eating muscaria. But you and Arora are most welcome to your “extreme cuisine,” just like the fugu eaters of Japan. I recommend going in with your eyes wide open, and all of the facts before you.

        Best to you, and love your OZ!

        Debbie Viess

      • 14

        morrie2 said,

        Hi Debbie,

        Thanks so much for taking the time to write. I am so pleased that you enjoyed your experience in Oz. As it turns out, I was probably on the east coast at the same time you were. I don’t know if we can say there is a drought here at this stage, but the rain has been very late coming this year. I think that the situation in California might be a bit more dire judging by past events.

        I had not appreciated the situation in the US with respect to eating wild mushrooms. By comparison with us here you seem to be way ahead. As you will probably have noticed, there is considerable fear of mushrooms here which is supported by the mycological establishment. Every time someone dies from eating death caps there is a flurry of fearful media outpourings telling us that wild mushrooms are to be avoided at all costs and some expert is quoted as supporting that position.

        Yet, inexorably, there is a growing enthusiasm for foraging. I think that this is in many ways a false ideal, but it is there. We have cooking shows where they throw in wild mushrooms with wild abandon and very little understanding. Unpeeled Suillus abound. Visiting chefs want wild mushrooms for demonstrations with no real appreciation of what they are likely to be using but with total conviction that wild mushrooms must be great food. Menus refer to ‘wild mushrooms’ at every turn, but the fact is that they are almost non-existent here. A few Boletus edulis in South Australia, some Lactarius in east coast pine forests and the omnipresent Slippery Jacks in all their slimy glory.

        Despite this, there are about 100 edible species that I am aware of, most of which are introduced and a few of which we might consider good eating. If we could define a few edible native Amanitas it might be interesting. Perhaps the availability of dna tests to amateur enthusiasts might speed this along. So many of our natives are largely unexplored wrt edibility – Laetiporus is an example.

        Getting back to the A. muscarias, I haven’t quite finished with the topic yet. I am hoping to come up with a simple test for the presence or rather, absence, of muscimol. Stand by!

        Cheers,

        Morrie

  7. 15

    Debbie Viess said,

    Hi Morrie,

    We are not so different, OZ and CA! Just like in OZ, if a death occurs due to the ingestion of Amanita phalloides (CA is the only place in the world where it has jumped to the wild: the first known case of an invasive MR mushroom, and what an invasive!) the usual suspects are quoted: Poison Control Docs who claim that no wild mushroom should ever be eaten. AS IF! as they say in the Valley.

    Public Health (as if a handful of deaths can compare to hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands from other circumstances) trumps common sense, and fear and ignorance motivates those warnings.

    Hunting, collecting and identifying mushrooms is not common in the US, although popularity is growing what with the foodies wanting ever new tastes and foragers wanting to get back to their roots (and mycelia).

    You probably have more edible fungi in OZ than you think, but perhaps less folks willing to experiment upon themselves! I did see a number of NA fungal species in the many Botanical Gardens that we visited, so it would appear that quite a few fungi are gaining global distributions, esp. species that grow on wood chips and lawns, what with the worldwide distribution of plants, mulches and their fungal associates.

    AS to the removal of ibotenic acid and muscimol from muscaria: the Nagano Prefecture, Sanada Town, Japan method works well. Lab analysis showed zero toxins remaining, but again, their process IS elaborate, and in many phases and over several months time. It is detailed in my M the J muscaria paper, cited here elsewhere.

    Otherwise, simply drying muscaria first converts ibotenic acid to the less toxic muscimol. Repeated boilings in plenty of water, with that now toxic water thrown out (not used for sauce!), then a good rinsing and then caramelizing will produce a mostly toxin free meal. Certainly no remaining muscimol would do you serious harm. But again, folks who were well experienced did suffer some adverse effects, even after attempting the detox process. These are detailed in my paper, and who knows how many more there have been, what with the current push to treat muscaria as a “safe” edible species?

    For those whose idea of fine cuisine includes cane toads, and/or who might just enjoy a short trip to some magical inner world, the amounts of toxins left in improperly boiled muscaria would not be of great concern.

    It certainly wouldn’t kill you!

    Just like for you in OZ, there is a lot of ignorance around wild mushrooms in America. Cultivated species are treated the same as wild on most restaurant menus. Foodies are curious about new tastes and more daring meals (aka extreme cuisine), and the back to the earth foragers want to live off the land. It takes time to forage for your food safely, though, as you well know.

    Still, lots to learn on both continents about our fungal friends.

    Have fun with your experiments!

    Debbie Viess


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